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Colin Edwards: 'Faith and feel'
23 June 2014
Having spent so much of his WSBK and MotoGP career on Michelin tyres, it is unsurprising that the soon-to-retire Colin Edwards is being linked to a test role ahead of the French company's 2016 return.
Having lost its long grand prix dominance to Bridgestone, Michelin was then forced out of MotoGP completely at the end of 2008 when the sport moved to a single supplier.
Bridgestone has fulfilled that role ever since, but will depart at the end of next year, with Michelin confirmed as its replacement.
“I've had contact with them. Just 'hey',” said Edwards of a possible test role. “It's a thought in my mind. I think it's a thought in their mind. We just have to come together.”
A world championship rider since 1995, Edwards joined MotoGP after winning his second WSBK crown in 2002.
Since then the Texan has raced 990cc Aprilia (Michelin), 990cc Honda (Michelin), 990cc Yamaha (Michelin), 800cc Yamaha (Michelin and Bridgestone), 1000cc Suter-BMW (Bridgestone), 1000cc FTR-Kawasaki (Bridgestone) and now 1000cc Forward Yamaha (Bridgestone) machines.
The 40-year-old has claimed twelve podiums, three pole positions, three fastest laps and a best of fourth in the world championship.
With the performance of MotoGP machines now starting to exceed circuit run-off, underlined by the recent test of a tight 'F1' corner at the end of the Catalunya back straight, the fresh start offered by Michelin seems an ideal time to reduce grip and therefore performance.
Edwards agrees in theory, but underlined that Michelin's motivation will be to build the best tyres possible.
“I think Ben Spies said it, if you make the tyres shitty and everyone was three seconds a lap slower [the racing would be better]. It sounds like a great concept but it's hard to do,” explained Edwards.
“Especially if you have Michelin coming in and they want to prove that they can build a better tyre and break lap records.
“Unless somebody tells them, 'slow these motherf**kers down, make it go back to old racing with wheel spinning and smoke coming off the tyre' they will try and build the best tyre that they can.”
With that in mind, Edwards was asked - of all the tyre specifications he has tried in MotoGP - which kind of characteristics he hopes to see in the new Michelin era.
“Once we went to Bridgestone [control tyres] it was. Don't get me wrong, I love the company, they help me out a lot with the Boot Camp and I've got a great relationship with them too. But it went more… What are the words I'm looking for… Faith instead of feel.
“You just had to have a little faith in it. You went in a little bit harder the next lap because it worked the last lap. You understand what I'm saying. It worked that lap, so the next lap you tried to bite off a little bit more.
“Obviously Bridgestone also had the issues at the beginning with cold tyres. I've got a broken collarbone to prove it.
“The most feel [from a tyre] of those I used was '04, '05, '06 with Michelin [at the Factory Yamaha Team]. They were building stuff that you could get to the limit and you knew how to push it.
“Instead of just having faith, you had a lot of feel for what was going on.
“At the same time we were constantly building different casings and matching them with different rubbers. Just playing with it. That was fun. And no rider was the same. Valentino always used a hard casing that if I tried to use it I'd be two seconds a lap slower. Elias had some super soft front.
“At that time [open tyre competition] you built a tyre around your package. Whereas now you build the package around the tyre. It gets a little more expensive that way!”
Turning to the present, 2014 has been “f**king frustrating” for Edwards, who has spent two seasons at Forward Racing waiting for a competitive package only to find that the new M1-based Open class machine is not handling as he hoped.
While team-mate Aleix Espargaro has adapted well, dominating the new privateer class and mixing with the Factory bikes, Edwards has a best result of ninth and has finished in the points just twice.
“I have no confidence in the electronics, or feel, or whatever's going on at the moment. It's got nothing to do with retirement,” said Edwards of his performances this season.
“After last year with the Kawi the electronics worked pretty good I felt. Natural thinking was 'wait until we get a good engine'.
“But it's hard. Yamaha have worked a lot on torque. There's a lot of torque [with the M1 engine], but it doesn't really build any steam. It not that 'braaaaaaap!' It's more a 'wap, wap, wap'. Always torquey and we're trying to control that with these [standard] electronics.”
Edwards added: “At Mugello we had to reinvent. We've got to play a lot with torque maps instead of using a lot of cut and retard on the ignition, which really wasn't good on the engine. So we have to figure out how to reduce second gear by 50% or whatever. Take so much away and then use ignition cut after that.”
“F**k no! I wish we did,” replied Edwards, when asked about electronic assistance from Yamaha. “I mean they did at the start, they gave us [an engine] map at Valencia last year. They put their guys on it and said 'this is what they've got, give them something to work with'.
“When I rode it for the first time I thought 'this ain't gonna work' because we [have torque] but we don't have any power. So we've been playing around… maybe we have to go back there [to Yamaha] and beef it up a little bit.”
The big in-season change for Edwards has been a switch from the 2013 Yamaha frame to an alternative design commissioned by the Forward team. “I think FTR did all the welding and put it together,” confirmed Edwards.
“The first time I rode it at Mugello I thought 'this is awesome'. I can brake deep. The main thing with the Yamaha frame was that if you pushed one or two metres more and tried to be aggressive under braking, the bike would just keep steaming ahead. You couldn't even lean into the corners. It just kept going straight ahead.
“Hence the way that Lorenzo brakes and the way that Marquez brakes are two completely different styles. With this [FTR] bike at least you can brake deep and get it into the corner. We're still struggling with a little bit of turning. We're still testing, trying to figure out the right balance.”
Casting his eye towards the front of the grid, Edwards - who trains riders at his highly successful Boot Camp - said there isn't anything technique-wise that stuns him.
“There's nothing that I could sit there and say 'wow that guy is totally amazing'. I've had good packages. When your package is right and you are confident, you can do anything you want,” Edwards said. “When you have a package that doesn't work, it doesn't really matter what you do. But when it works you can get in the area and make it do what you want."
Edwards did admit that having kids “changes you a little bit”, pointing out how few of the riders on the present grid have children (family were one of the main reasons given by Edwards when he announced his end-of-2014 retirement) but insisted it is business as usual whenever “I get on the bike and close the visor.”
However Edwards does appreciate that something he has dedicated most of his life towards is coming to an end. “I take a little extra time after the practices to wave to the crowd, blow some kisses and shit like that!” he smiled.
So be sure to give Colin a wave if you are at a race this year. MotoGP will miss him in 2015.